In days past, every home had a “kitchen garden”. No matter how small your yard, you dedicated a space to growing some herbs and a vegetable or two. When cooking, it allowed you to gather ingredients that would add flavor and nutrition, by just stepping outside your back door.
Here in the Midwest, we are flirting with temperatures hovering near the freezing mark. Not wanting to press my luck any longer, yesterday I harvested the last of the herbs from our little garden space. Although, a few of them will be frozen, most will be dehydrated for long-term storage.
Let’s take a look at various techniques for dehydrating vegetables, herbs, and fruits.
This post is sponsored by Garden Spot Vegetable Farm. Located in Princeville, Illinois, owner, Jim Buckley and his family, cultivate 34 acres of vegetables and 375 fruit trees. Garden Spot is a no-spray farm, offering a variety of CSA packages. Check their Facebook page for current programs and options for available produce.
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Most fruits, vegetables and herbs can be dehydrated. Although, some require special preparation. For instance, apple and banana slices need to be soaked in a lemon juice mixture to retain their color and discourage them from developing an “off” flavor or prematurely rotting. Some vegetables, like broccoli and green beans need to be blanched before dehydrating.
There are several methods for drying produce and herbs.
When drying herbs, one can simply bundle them together, tying the stems with twine, and hang them in a low-humidity room. I have done this quite successfully and it takes 1-2 weeks, depending on the humidity of your chosen space.
Alternately, microwave dehydrating allows you to dry small amounts of herbs in a matter of minutes. I do this a lot in mid-summer when I don’t want to turn my oven on – even on the warm setting.
Related content: “6 Simple, Easy Steps to Dehydrating Herbs in the Microwave”
However, the “warm” setting on your oven does provide a third option. If you don’t have a “warm” setting, turn the oven as low as it can go and insert an oven-proof thermometer. If the temperature reads 200° or less, then you can still use your oven to dehydrate.
Although I have successfully tried all of the options I just mentioned, my preferred method for drying large batches of herbs or vegetables is my dehydrator.
I have a 9-tray Excalibur dehydrator and I love it. There is plenty of space for large batches of produce or herbs. If you are drying tall herbs (like these dill weed seed heads), you can simply remove some of the shelves, allowing adequate space for the herbs, and the unit will still function without the full complement of 9-trays.
The first thing you need to know is the optimum temperature for each item that you’d like to dehydrate. Most herbs are rather fragile and require a rather low drying temperature of 95°-115°. The temperature for fruits and vegetables vary.
STEP 1: Wash the product and pat gently with a clean, dry towel.
STEP 2: Prep as necessary.
Certain fruits will need to be soaked in a lemon juice or ascorbic acid mixture. Likewise, some vegetables need to be blanched before dehydrating.
STEP 3: Cut into even slices (1/4 inch is optimal) or cubes.
If using the oven, place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. The silicone liner will ensure that the fruit or vegetable being dried doesn’t stick to the baking tray.
STEP 4: Fill the trays.
If you are using a conventional dehydrator, fill the provided drying tray. If the trays have large holes, you can cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside the drying rack. Then, using the end of a sharp knife, cut small holes in the paper to allow for the circulation of air. Place the parchment paper on the drying rack and then place the prepared pieces of fruit or vegetable on top of the parchment paper. The rack will still fit into the dehydrator and the parchment paper will keep small pieces from falling through as the produce dries and shrinks in size.
I use these silicone baking mats from Amazon Basics and absolutely adore them. I have used them (hard) for the past eighteen months and they are still in perfect condition. They are very reasonably priced and I highly recommend them.
STEP 5: Use an appropriate heat setting.
Set the oven to “warm” (which should be between 140° and 200°). If your dehydrator has a heat setting, turn it to the appropriate temperature.
Some dehydrators simply have an “on” and “off” button. If this is the case, turn the unit on and set a timer so you don’t forget to go back and set it in a couple of hours.
NOTE: Some herbs (like mint) require a very low drying temperature. Dehydrators which do not allow you to set the temperature and generally too hot for this herb and will burn it. You can, however, dry mint and other herbs in the microwave if you adjust the microwave cook setting to medium, watch it carefully, and turn the mint often.
Some dehydrators come with an additional timer, allowing you to set the timer and walk away, knowing that the unit will automatically shut off after that period of time.
STEP 6: Check the drying process every few hours.
You may need to turn the slices over or reposition the trays in the oven to encourage even drying. I like to use a spatula to move the items around and turn them over. If drying in the oven, swap tray positions, moving those at the top to the bottom rack and visa versa.
7. Check for the appropriate dryness and texture
Some fruits, like apples, pears, mango, and blueberries may still be slightly pliable and chewy when adequately dried, while vegetables, like onions, will be crispy and snap when bent.
The main concern is to be certain they will not mold is the moisture content. These numbers range between 5% remaining total moisture for leafy vegetables up to 20% for “fleshy” fruits like apricots.
Conditioning the Finished Product
The best way to test for whether it’s done or not is to take them out of the dehydrator or oven. Let them cool completely and place them in a glass jar overnight.
Check the jar the next day. If there is any sign of moisture on the sides or bottom of the jar, they need to go back into the oven or dehydrator for more time.
If there is no sign of moisture, reseal the jar and then shake it. If there is any lingering moisture, this will redistribute the contents, discouraging the growth of mold.
Repeat this process daily, looking for any moisture and smelling to be sure it isn’t taking on a musty odor.
After one week without any mold, moisture, or funky smell, you are all set. Seal the jar one last time and store in a cool, dry, dark place (like in your pantry) for up to one year.
Related content: “3 Hacks for Organizing Your Pantry”
Reconstituting Fruits and Vegetables
I throw dried vegetables into soups without soaking them. They will soak up the soup broth and soften as the soup cooks.
If you are using dried produce for recipes you can soak them in water in the refrigerator. Reconstituting time varies from about eight hours for fruits to as little as two hours for vegetables.
You may safely use the water in which you soaked the vegetables or fruits as part of your recipe.